Let’s start here: what does a project manager do? This role can look slightly different depending on the organization and project type, but a project manager is generally responsible for wrangling big group initiatives -- and they plan, scope, initiate, assign, guide, budget, control, and wrap-up those projects.
Another way to look at it: a project manager handles the nuts and bolts of getting a project done on time and on budget.
If you’re good at seeing the step-by-step necessary to complete complex tasks, hitting deadlines, cajoling people into doing your bidding, and organizing your work day down to the minute, you probably have what it takes to do this job.
No experience? No problem. Let us walk you through breaking into project management.
First, know exactly which qualities are valuable to employers.
Much of a project manager’s job is keeping totally separate teams in touch, which means you’ve got to be an ace at clearly and quickly communicating both verbally and in writing. You can show this skill up front by turning in a tightly written cover letter and resume -- both error-free -- and by giving succinct, clear answers to early interview questions. Highlight any communication-heavy aspects of past jobs on your resume, too.
Negotiation and leadership
Project managers are often in charge of guiding a project to completion without actually directly managing any of the members of the team. What’s more, they may be working with separate teams with competing priorities. That means they have to be fierce negotiators -- and especially good leaders when it comes to influencing colleagues that aren’t direct reports. Prepare to speak to those qualities with good examples of how you’ve influenced teams that you didn’t have authority to hire and fire.
Problem solving and risk management
When your job is to keep things moving forward, you’re inevitably going to encounter some obstacles that threaten to derail progress. Great project managers are good not just at untangling those snarls when they happen, but also anticipating any potential sticking points and charting a course around them. Prepare to talk about your approach to problem-solving in interviews, and make sure you showcase work that required this skill in your resume or cover letter. And if you’ve been in a role that forced you to anticipate and control for risk, that’ll give you a leg up, too.
Organization and attention to detail
How do you get a project from start to finish? By mapping out the steps. And to do that effectively, you’ve got to have a great sense of all the components that are required to complete the project, and the order in which they need to be completed. Showcase your ability to break lofty goals down into manageable steps, and make sure you proofread all your writing in the interview process -- that’s the first indicator you pay attention to the nitty gritty.
This probably goes without saying, but if you’re trying to get a group to finish a project by a deadline, you need good time management skills yourself. So good, in fact, that you can manage other people’s time better than they can themselves. Make a good first impression in this arena by showing up for scheduled interviews on time. And if you’ve had a job where you constantly worked to deadlines -- or held other people accountable for their own deadlines -- that’s a good job to highlight.
Gain the skills.
Consider a certification.
The gold standard of project management certification is the Project Management Professional certification (or PMP) -- but before you can take the test, you need to amass hundreds of hours of project management work. Novices, however, can take the test to become a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) after an online course. Before you shell out the money, know that certification isn’t a requirement for all project management roles -- but getting the certification can signal that you’re serious about shifting into this career track, and it might get you past some initial recruiting barriers, ensuring your resume is at least seen by a hiring manager.
Learn the tools.
There are a lot of tools out there to help make a project manager’s life easier, and familiarity with them may give you better comfort in answering questions during an interview, as well as good guidelines in organizing yourself for the role. Start with Asana, DropBox, Basecamp, and Trello, and take a spin around the internet for other platforms.
Take on project management work in your current role.
If you’re part of team projects in your current role, and no one is explicitly responsible for managing the nuts and bolts of those projects, you might be able to volunteer to take on a little project management responsibility, even if it’s just setting and managing deadlines for your team members. That experience will give you something to talk about when you apply for a project management position.
Now, land the job.
Apply for entry-level project management jobs.
Yes, they’re definitely out there. Beef up your resume to highlight the skills above (if this is your first resume, let us walk you through how to do that), and then search for project management jobs on localwise.com.
Refine your resume to highlight your project management skills, and go after project management jobs in your function.
If you’re a few years into a career, and you have a hard time stomaching the idea of starting fresh in an entry-level position, you might be able to make a lateral move into project management just by highlighting your previous project work and then staying in your function. If you’ve been a marketer at an agency, for instance, you might look for project management positions at your own agency, other agencies, or big marketing departments inside of companies. You can sell your familiarity with the type of work that needs to get done, and show how you’ll guide that work to completion.
Consider an internship.
If you’re still in school or just out, landing an internship with a project management team is the surest way to gain relevant experience and expose you to potential entry-level job openings.
Take a role that’s a natural precursor to project management.
Any entry-level job with a lot of coordination tasks associated is a natural step toward a future role in project management. Look for job titles like project coordinator, office manager, sales or marketing assistant, or any operations role. Search for jobs on localwise.com.